Tag Archives: Lent

Four lessons from my Lenten social media fast

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This past Sunday was Easter, of course. Easter marks the endpoint of Lent, and therefore it was the end of my 40-day fast from Facebook and Twitter. I do admit that I broke cover once to announce my upcoming job change, and will also admit that I lurked a lot on both services during the last 10 days or so, reading but not commenting. Otherwise, though, I did manage to stay off both Facebook and Twitter for the duration (auto-posted tweets didn’t count).

I’ll have to say my first real tweet after breaking the fast felt awkward — like I’d been out in the wilderness for 40 days and had stepped back into a once-familiar place with people who had never left. I’m gradually getting back into the swing of it, but I also feel like I have a much different perspective on my social media involvement after giving most of it up for 40 days. I’ve learned a few things about the role of social media in my work and life:

Lesson 1: Denoising your life is good. I found this out within days of starting the fast. I didn’t realize until I gave Twitter and Facebook up for a few days just how dependent I’d become on checking status reports every few minutes, not to mention creating status updates myself. There is a tremendous amount of time bound up in these little 2- to 5-minute bursts of social media that I really benefitted from reclaiming. But more than that, I found that once I went cold turkey on Facebook and Twitter, the pace of my life slowed down several notches. I felt less hurried and more relaxed. When you make yourself try to keep up with a continuous stream of status updates, you soon begin to feel like Lucy and Ethel on the candy wrapping assembly line:

But that’s not all I learned.

Lesson 2: Getting rid of the noise is good, but losing the signal in the process is not so good. Many times over the last couple of months, I’d catch myself leaning over the keyboard about to compose a tweet asking for help or ideas on a question, or looking at Facebook to see what my friends all over the world were doing. But I had to catch myself because I was on a fast. I learned through all this that I really value the thoughts and ideas of the people and groups I follow — these thoughts and ideas enrich my life, fire my imagination, make me laugh at silly stuff, and generally make me a better person and professional. I missed all that, and the people behind them, a lot.

Despite the value I place in my connections, I also learned that:

Lesson 3: It’s good not to share everything. I remember quite clearly having lunch with my dissertation advisor one day, and he gave me a piece of advice I’ve never forgotten: Always keep secrets. Work on things that nobody knows about but yourself. While sharing is generally good, and while the power of being able to share yourself quickly and on a large scale through Twitter and Facebook creates a powerful opportunity to connect with others, I think there’s a point of sharing past which the individual starts to get diluted. For example, during the first couple of weeks of Lent, I attended the ICTCM in Denver. There was no tweeting from there, although there was ample opportunity. Instead, I kept notes, talked to people, and made myself social in real life. It was good, and I think it would have been less good if I had taken time away from the here-and-now to tweet about the here-and-now.

Then, the Wednesday after I returned from Denver, I noticed on my right leg a series of painful, angry-looking red streaks going from my lower right calf all the way up to the top of the thigh. I went to the doctor to have it checked out, and they sent me directly to the emergency room, and from there they sent me directly to a hospital room. I was diagnosed with cellulitis, an infection of the subcutaneous tissue under the skin that I probably picked up from walking around barefoot in my Denver hotel room. I spent three days in the hospital getting IV antibiotics around the clock to fight the infection. Had I waited till Thursday morning to go to the doctor, the infection would have made it to my femoral artery and I likely would have gone septic, and it would have gotten considerably worse from there.

I’ll admit it: I was scared, frustrated, and sorely in need of people to connect with during those three days. Had I been using social media, I would have been posting Facebook and Twitter updates, probably with pictures, about as often as I was getting antibiotics. But by choice, I kept this experience to myself, to share with my wife and kids, my doctors, and with God. Instead of tweeting, I prayed and wrote and talked to my wife and children. I watched a lot of Netflix and got some grading done. So while it would have been a comfort to have social media as an outlet for sharing with others, by concentrating my sharing to the real people in my life who matter the most, and keeping the rest a secret (till now), the whole experience somehow has more meaning and lasting power in my memory.

Finally, I learned:

Lesson 4: Social media is a permanent part of who I am, and when managed well it is a powerful force for good. Early on during Lent I realized I liked the slower pace of life so much that I wondered if I would go back to Twitter and Facebook once it was all over. Honestly, I can’t see giving those two services up. I’ve carefully groomed and built my list of people and groups to follow so that whenever I look in on the Twitter update stream, I learn something. Facebook is the same way except on a more personal level with friends from real life. So I can’t see just giving these things up. They are an antidote to stagnation. But I do like taking a more minimal and focused approach to engaging with social media — which, by the way, leaves me more ideas and energy for blogging — so that the signal-to-noise ratio is high.

So ends my Lenten social media fast, with results that I consider successful. I feel that I’m now more apt to use social media outlets to grow and learn and connect in positive ways, less prone to share indiscriminately and inappropriately. Like most things, it takes some time away to help you appreciate what you have.

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Filed under Christianity, Family, Personal, Social software, Technology, Twitter, Web 2.0

Why I am giving up Twitter and Facebook for Lent

I don’t often write on CO9’s about my faith, so I hope you’ll indulge me for a bit. Since this is also a post about technology, I figured it fits. This has to do with Lent.

In the Christian church year, Lent is a season in which believers participate in acts of personal sacrifice to help us prepare for Holy Week. Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter, which is on April 24 this year. I haven’t always given something up for Lent, but this year I’ve decided that I am giving up Twitter and Facebook.

It may seem silly to use abstinence from social media to commemorate the sufferings of Christ, but there’s a serious twofold purpose to my choice.

First, in giving up Twitter and Facebook, I am seeking to recover time that I am spending in 15–30 second increments and re-invest it elsewhere. If you took all the little bursts of time I spend checking Facebook and Twitter in a given day, I think it would add up to about an hour. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a lot more than an hour. I can do a lot in an hour: pray, read, spend time with the kids, or just be still. Right now I complain that I don’t have enough time for these things, but in fact I do.

Second, I’ve used Facebook and Twitter status updates to vent out all kinds of behavior that are best left off the public record, and I’d like that to change. In particular, I think back to the tweets that followed this one a few weeks ago. It was an outburst of anger toward a student comment on the MATLAB course blog that shouldn’t have been posted. While I deleted the worst of the tweets in that series, I looked back on that rapid-fire set of tweets the next day and I recoiled at the ugliness of it. That is not the kind of man I would like to be.

Although the idea of giving up Twitter for Lent popped into my head after that incident, it’s certainly not the only time I’ve engaged in character assassination or whining or self-indulgence or attention-seeking on Twitter or Facebook. It can be frustrating. There is so much good to which these social media outlets can be put, like sharing interesting links, making connections to old friends and new friends who share my passions, and discovering new ideas from interesting people. But it’s also a fact that I’ve used the quick-hit nature of Twitter and Facebook to share things that I ought to be sorry for even thinking.

I’m hoping that by stepping away from social media for a while, I will starve some of those tendencies to act immediately upon the impulses to bash, whine, hurt, indulge, or emote and give myself instead a chance to fill the space with better things. I’m thinking of how Luther explains the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism. For Luther, each commandment is phrased explicitly in the negative (e.g. “You shall not murder”) but implicitly carries with it an equal and opposite command given in the positive (e.g. instead, we should help and support our neighbors in every physical need). In fact the Catechism’s entry for the Eighth Commandment really gets at the heart of it:

The Eighth Commandment.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

What does this mean?–Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

That’s what I’m shooting for here.

So between now and April 24, I’ll still check for and respond to direct messages on Twitter and Facebook (because those are really more like emails than anything). Also, my Facebook group I set up for my academic advisees will still see action because that’s more job-related. Some things that I do which auto-post to Twitter and Facebook, like when I post a YouTube video or publish a blog post, I’ll leave up and running. But otherwise no posting and no @-replies until April 24. If you normally get in touch with me through Facebook or Twitter, please use my email instead: robert [dot] talbert [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Filed under Casting Out Nines, Social software, Technology